City Beat

News, insight and discussion on Sacramento and its neighborhoods

August 31, 2011
City firefighters, council reach agreement on pensions

City Hall has made progress in its fight over public employee pensions.

The City Council gave its final approval Tuesday night on a package of salary concessions by firefighters - including pension contributions.

Firefighters have agreed to contribute 6 percent of their salaries to their CalPERS retirement funds starting in January 2013. Those contributions are projected to save the city $2.9 million a year.

August 30, 2011
Sacramento on the verge of allowing backyard chickens

It appears Cowtown is about to become Chickentown.

The City Council seems poised to approve an ordinance tonight that will allow residents to keep laying hens in backyards. That's sure to please members of the "slow food" movement and those already keeping chickens.

While some residents still have their reservations, one person who has changed his mind and now supports backyard chickens is Mayor Kevin Johnson. And all it took was a chat with one of Northern California's best-known chefs.

August 29, 2011
Pair of top City Hall officials quit

Two of the highest-ranking officials at City Hall have quit, days before new City Manager John Shirey takes office.

Cassandra Jennings, who has been an assistant city manager for the past six years, worked her last day Friday. She is moving to the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency "to work on special projects," according to an email she sent to high-level city staff earlier this month.

Also leaving is Marty Hanneman, the head of the city's Department of Utilities. Hanneman's last day of work is today, although his resignation does not go into effect until Sept. 16.

August 23, 2011
Tense redistricting debate returns to City Hall tonight

Rarely has an issue with such narrow focus elicited this kind of impassioned response at City Hall.

See the redistricting maps here

But that's the case with the debate over which City Council district should represent the tiny neighborhood of Med Center - a debate that will once again find its way into the Council Chambers this evening. The council is scheduled to take up the matter at its 6 p.m. meeting at City Hall, 915 I St.

At issue is a proposal for new council district boundaries that must be adopted by Sept. 6. Under the plan, District 6 would take on Med Center and its 1,000 or so residents, combining it with Elmhurst, Tahoe Park and other neighborhoods on the southeast side.

August 19, 2011
Backyard chicken ordinance returning to City Hall

The chickens are back at City Hall.

That's not a joke about politicians. After months and months of wrangling, city officials are about to finalize an ordinance that would allow city residents to keep up to three egg-laying hens in their backyards.

The ordinance is on Tuesday's City Council agenda, but likely won't be debated until the following week. If passed by the council, it would go into effect Nov. 1.

August 17, 2011
Olive branch offered in heated Sacramento redistricting debate

Councilman Kevin McCarty is offering a compromise in the squabble over who gets to represent the small neighborhood of Med Center.

McCarty told me this afternoon he's open to keeping the Sacramento Charter High School campus with the council district representing the rest of Oak Park. The rest of the surrounding Med Center neighborhood and the UC Davis Medical Center campus would still transfer to his Elmhurst/Tahoe Park district.

McCarty said the Sac High issue - which has been met with keen interest by Mayor Kevin Johnson's office - had become a distraction. He acknowledged there is "an emotional link (between the school and Oak Park) and I respect that." I have a call into the mayor's office to get their reaction.

August 17, 2011
Redistricting debate attracts heated protests to City Hall

As expected, several dozen people showed up for Tuesday night's City Council meeting to protest a redistricting plan that would separate the small Med Center area from neighboring Oak Park.

Roughly 70 people testified before the council in what was at times a heated two-hour event. The council could not respond to the concerns, given that the matter was not on the evening's agenda and open government laws prohibit the council from discussing issues that haven't been placed on an agenda.

That didn't stop several in the audience from hollering at members of the council for an explanation.

August 17, 2011
Sacramento arena funding plan to be released Sept. 8

We now know when and where the proposed financing plan for a new downtown sports arena will be unveiled.

Rich Ehisen, president of the Sacramento Press Club, announced during Tuesday's luncheon that the menu of funding options for the proposed $387 million facility would be revealed during the Press Club's Sept. 8 event.

While precise details of the financing plan are still unknown, Chris Lehane, the chair of the task force, said in a new release this morning that it will include "contributions from both the public and private sectors, including the Kings ownership group, arena developers and operators."

August 16, 2011
The Battle of Med Center: Brawl over tiny enclave continues

Petitions are being signed. Politicians and their staffers are canvassing door to door. Emails accusing the other side of malfeasance are filling up inboxes.

And it's all over a small - but incredibly symbolic - neighborhood many people have never heard of.

Of all the political battles to take place within City Hall the past three years, the fight over which council district should represent the residential neighborhood of Med Center has been perhaps the most colorful. And it likely will reach the next level tonight, when dozens of people from both sides are expected to testify before the City Council.

August 16, 2011
Mayor: Progress made on finding housing for homeless

Mayor Kevin Johnson thinks the region could meet his goal of providing 2,400 permanent shelter beds for the homeless in time for this winter's wet and cold weather.

Sacramento Steps Forward, the mayor's non-profit organization founded to address the region's homeless issue, has helped identify more than 2,000 beds so far, officials said today. Johnson's goal was to find 2,400 before next year.

While officials are ahead of schedule on finding permanent housing for the homeless, "there are still far too many people who are homeless" in Sacramento, the mayor said.

August 11, 2011
Momentum building behind new science center on river

With a scheduled groundbreaking just weeks away on the project, officials ceremoniously accepted a $7 million grant today that will kick-start the construction of the Powerhouse Science Center north of downtown.

The state grant was funded by Proposition 84 money and will turn the old PG&E power station on Jibboom Street along the Sacramento River into a science, math, technology, engineering, space and environmental learning center. An estimated 120,000 people a year are expected to visit the museum after its expected 2013 opening.

Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, said officials were "making a down payment on Sacramento's future" with the project. Mayor Kevin Johnson lauded the center's educational impact on the region and said the facility will create 300 jobs.

August 10, 2011
Sacramento City Council approves contract for city manager

As expected, the City Council voted overwhelmingly late Tuesday to approve a contract for the new city manager that will make him the highest paid employee in the city's history.

John Shirey is scheduled to start Sept. 1 and will earn roughly $306,000 in salary and benefits. His base salary of $258,000 is the highest of any city manager in the region and is equal to Sacramento County Executive Brad Hudson.

The council approved a three-year contract for Shirey by a 7-2 vote. It's the first time Sacramento's city manager has been under contract.

August 9, 2011
Design experts: Sacramento arena, transit hub can co-exist

A report by the Urban Land Institute has found that both a new sports arena and the city's planned transit hub could fit in land in the downtown railyard.

When designs for the proposed arena were unveiled in May, transit advocates quickly noticed that the plans called for the facility to be placed directly on the site of the planned $300 million transit hub, known by some as the intermodal facility. City planners hope to one day construct a hub for high-speed rail, light rail and buses.

But the ULI report says the two facilities not only could fit in the railyard - they could work well together.

August 8, 2011
Sacramento city manager pay increasing sharply

The job of Sacramento city manager is about to become much more lucrative.

In a contract expected to be approved by the City Council on Tuesday, newly-appointed city manager John Shirey will make a base salary of $258,000. With retirement contributions, health benefits and allowances, his annual compensation will hit $305,940.

That's roughly $35,000 more a year than the previous two full-time city managers - Gus Vina and Ray Kerridge. Shirey's base salary will be equal to the region's highest-paid local government official, Sacramento County Executive Brad Hudson.

August 2, 2011
Mayor: City should have independent redistricting panel

Mayor Kevin Johnson thinks the way the city's redistricting process has unfolded stinks. And he wants to make some changes.

The mayor was very critical today of the way the council has settled on the final six maps it is considering for new council district boundaries. Two of them were submitted by council members - Sandy Sheedy and Steve Cohn.

"That discredits, in my opinion, the whole process," the mayor said. "We say 'integrity,' we say 'involve the public,' and then we put two maps out."

August 2, 2011
As city manager search ends, salary arrangement still unknown

Negotiations with a new Sacramento city manager are hitting a pivotal stretch this week.

The City Council will go into a closed-door meeting at 3 p.m. today to discuss the contract they will offer to John Shirey, the presumed appointee. Shirey, the head of the California Redevelopment Association, emerged in recent weeks as the front-runner out of a field of roughly 30 applicants for the city's top executive.

It's unlikely the council will vote to offer Shirey the job today, but an announcement is expected by the end of the week.

August 1, 2011
Midtown Sacramento lot overgrown - what gives?

Three years ago, the city bought a small slice of land in midtown with the purpose of turning the highly-visible parcel into a neighborhood park.

Today, that parcel at 19th and Q streets is not only still vacant, it's overgrown with weeds. What gives?

I'm writing a story on that lot for tomorrow's Bee and am wondering if residents know of other long-neglected lots, especially those that are supposed to be turned into parks or new developments. With the economy the way it is, I suspect there are many lots around town in states of disrepair.

As for the 19th and Q lot, the city says it will probably still be months before there's a park there. In the meantime, city officials are hopeful they can put $200,000 in federal grants to use and clean up toxic chemicals from the site.

In the meantime, the city says it will get rid of the overgrown weeds at the lot next week. That will come as a relief to neighborhood residents and the area's councilman, Steve Cohn, both of whom have expressed frustration with the state of the lot.

Here's a photo I shot last week:


About City Beat

Ryan Lillis has covered the city of Sacramento, its 108 neighborhoods and its politicians since 2008. Prior to that, he covered crime at The Bee. A native of upstate New York, Lillis has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Contact reporter Ryan Lillis at


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